Police accidentally locked up an innocent man, causing him to spend two years in a mental health hospital in Hawaii.
Joshua Spriestersbach – who was homeless at the time – was wrongly arrested for a crime and subsequently taken to the Hawaii State Hospital.
He spent nearly three years at the mental health hospital and was forced to take psychiatric drugs, despite his arrest being a mistake.
The Hawaii Innocence Project filed a court petition on Monday night to have a judge rescind Spriestersbach’s arrest and have his records subsequently corrected.
It all began in 2017 when Spriestersbach fell asleep while waiting for food outside a Honolulu shelter. Upon being woken up by a police officer, Spriestersbach presumed he was being arrested due to the city’s ban on lying or sitting down on public sidewalks.
However, the police officer actually arrested him in relation to an outstanding warrant from 2006 for drug crimes, due to mistaking Spriestersbach for a man named Thomas Castleberry.
According to the Hawaii Innocence Project, Spriestersbach tried to tell officers, doctors and other staff involved that they had the wrong man. But the more he protested, the more he was ‘declared delusional and psychotic by the HSH staff and doctors’ and subsequently ‘heavily medicated’, stated the petition.
The petition went on to say:
It was understandable that Mr. Spriestersbach was in an agitated state when he was being wrongfully incarcerated for Mr. Castleberry’s crime and despite his continual denial of being Mr. Castleberry and providing all of his relevant identification and places where he was located during Mr. Castleberry’s court appearances, no one would believe him or take any meaningful steps to verify his identity and determine that what Mr. Spriestersbach was telling the truth – he was not Mr. Castleberry.
Eventually, after two years and eight months and even Spriestersbach’s own public defenders not believing his protestations as to his true identity, a hospital psychiatrist finally believed his claims.
The psychiatrist got a detective to come to the hospital, who checked Spriestersbach’s fingerprints and photograph, soon realising the wrong man had been arrested.
It was soon proven through ‘simple Google searches’ and ‘a few phone calls’ that Spriestersbach was also on a different island when Castleberry had initially been arrested for the crime, the court document stated.
The petition noted how easy it had been to check whether Spriestersbach was really Castleberry or not. The petition concluded by saying that all services involved, including the police, the state public defender’s office, the state attorney general and the hospital ‘share in the blame for this gross miscarriage of justice’.
Spokesperson for the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office, Matt Dvonch, declined to comment. Gary Yamashiroya, special assistant to the attorney general, also declined to comment.
The real Thomas R. Castleberry, 49, is reported to be living in the Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward, Alaska, according to reports.
Spriestersbach was subsequently released and ended up in a homeless shelter. He now lives in Vermont with his sister, who spent nearly 16 years looking for him after he moved to Hawaii and disappeared on the Big Island, while living with mental health issues at the time.
However, the Hawaii Innocence Project and Spriestersbach’s sister, Vedanta Griffith, have continued to feel disappointed with how the incident was resolved.
Griffith told The Associated Press how Spriestersbach never received an apology and now refuses to leave her 10-acre property due to being so afraid he will be taken again.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article and want to speak to someone in confidence, you can contact men’s health charity Movember via their website.
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